Commentary Magazine


Topic: Louisiana

The Reconciliation Dodge

House Democrats should be wary, says Sen. Judd Gregg, who smells a set-up on “reconciliation.” He explains:

“If you’re in the House and you’re saying, ‘Well, I’m going to vote for this because I’m going to get a reconcilation bill,’ I would think twice about that,” Gregg said. “First because, procedurally, it’s going to be hard to put a reconciliation bill through the Senate. Second because I’m not sure there’s going to be a lot of energy to do it, from the president or his people.”

“In my opinion, reconciliation is an exercise for buying votes, which, once they have the votes they really don’t need it,” he said.

And indeed, some House Democrats such as Shelley Berkley smell a rat. (“I would like something more concrete than a promise. The Senate cannot promise its way out of a brown paper bag.”) And if the House Democrats walk the plank but there is no reconciliation fix by the Senate, what then? Jeffrey Anderson sketched out the nightmare scenario:

Target squarely on their chests, they would now get to face their fuming constituents after having passed a $2.5 trillion bill that would allow public funding of abortion, would send $100 million to Nebraska, $300 million to Louisiana, $100 million to Connecticut, would exempt South Florida’s Medicare Advantage enrollees from annual $2,100 cuts in Medicare Advantage benefits, would raise taxes, raise deficits, raise health costs, empower Washington, reduce liberty, politicize medicine, and jeopardize the quality of health care.  Most of all, they would feel the citizenry’s wrath for having voted to pass a bill that only 25 percent of Americans support.

What in such circumstances should wary House Democrats do? Well, voting “no” and proposing a bare-bones, focused list of reforms might be a good idea. But who thinks Pelosi would go along with that gambit? She intends to make her members walk the plank. Unless and until she is convinced she will lose a floor vote, she’ll keep twisting arms and promising that ObamaCare’s passage is just around the corner. But of course, if they had the votes, they’d be voting. But they don’t — in large part because House Democrats have wised up.

House Democrats should be wary, says Sen. Judd Gregg, who smells a set-up on “reconciliation.” He explains:

“If you’re in the House and you’re saying, ‘Well, I’m going to vote for this because I’m going to get a reconcilation bill,’ I would think twice about that,” Gregg said. “First because, procedurally, it’s going to be hard to put a reconciliation bill through the Senate. Second because I’m not sure there’s going to be a lot of energy to do it, from the president or his people.”

“In my opinion, reconciliation is an exercise for buying votes, which, once they have the votes they really don’t need it,” he said.

And indeed, some House Democrats such as Shelley Berkley smell a rat. (“I would like something more concrete than a promise. The Senate cannot promise its way out of a brown paper bag.”) And if the House Democrats walk the plank but there is no reconciliation fix by the Senate, what then? Jeffrey Anderson sketched out the nightmare scenario:

Target squarely on their chests, they would now get to face their fuming constituents after having passed a $2.5 trillion bill that would allow public funding of abortion, would send $100 million to Nebraska, $300 million to Louisiana, $100 million to Connecticut, would exempt South Florida’s Medicare Advantage enrollees from annual $2,100 cuts in Medicare Advantage benefits, would raise taxes, raise deficits, raise health costs, empower Washington, reduce liberty, politicize medicine, and jeopardize the quality of health care.  Most of all, they would feel the citizenry’s wrath for having voted to pass a bill that only 25 percent of Americans support.

What in such circumstances should wary House Democrats do? Well, voting “no” and proposing a bare-bones, focused list of reforms might be a good idea. But who thinks Pelosi would go along with that gambit? She intends to make her members walk the plank. Unless and until she is convinced she will lose a floor vote, she’ll keep twisting arms and promising that ObamaCare’s passage is just around the corner. But of course, if they had the votes, they’d be voting. But they don’t — in large part because House Democrats have wised up.

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The Jig Is Up?

Everyone has been buzzing about reconciliation, a procedural trick for getting around the Senate filibuster on ObamaCare. But first the House has to pass it. And yes, the House has to go first, as Sen. Kent Conrad made clear today:

The House must pass the Senate bill first — before either chamber considers the reconciliation package, he said.

“I don’t know of any way, I don’t know of any way where you can have a reconciliation bill pass before the bill that it is meant to reconcile passes,” said Conrad, who would be a central figure on the Senate floor if Democrats embark on the complicated process. “I don’t know how you would deal with the scoring. I don’t know how I could look you in the eye and say this package reduces the deficit. It’s kind of got the cart before the horse.”

When reminded that House Democrats don’t want to do health care in that order, Conrad said bluntly: “Fine, then it’s dead.”

Yup. And how’s Nancy Pelosi doing rounding up those votes? Pelosi, it seems, isn’t close to getting her majority for ObamaCare II:

The chances of passing the president’s plan through the House appear to be growing slimmer by the hour. The three-vote margin the original bill had is all but gone. The one Republican who voted “yes,” Rep. Anh “Joseph’” Cao of Louisiana, says he’s a “no.” Rep. Bart Stupak, the Michigan Democrat who authored the tougher House abortion language, says the compromise language is “unacceptable.’” Now, [Rep. Dennis]Kucinich says he will not make up for those losses.

So heading into tomorrow’s summit we see that, indeed, there is less here than meets the eye. Obama has a proposal with no CBO score, no popular mandate, and no congressional majority. He better have an exit strategy.

Everyone has been buzzing about reconciliation, a procedural trick for getting around the Senate filibuster on ObamaCare. But first the House has to pass it. And yes, the House has to go first, as Sen. Kent Conrad made clear today:

The House must pass the Senate bill first — before either chamber considers the reconciliation package, he said.

“I don’t know of any way, I don’t know of any way where you can have a reconciliation bill pass before the bill that it is meant to reconcile passes,” said Conrad, who would be a central figure on the Senate floor if Democrats embark on the complicated process. “I don’t know how you would deal with the scoring. I don’t know how I could look you in the eye and say this package reduces the deficit. It’s kind of got the cart before the horse.”

When reminded that House Democrats don’t want to do health care in that order, Conrad said bluntly: “Fine, then it’s dead.”

Yup. And how’s Nancy Pelosi doing rounding up those votes? Pelosi, it seems, isn’t close to getting her majority for ObamaCare II:

The chances of passing the president’s plan through the House appear to be growing slimmer by the hour. The three-vote margin the original bill had is all but gone. The one Republican who voted “yes,” Rep. Anh “Joseph’” Cao of Louisiana, says he’s a “no.” Rep. Bart Stupak, the Michigan Democrat who authored the tougher House abortion language, says the compromise language is “unacceptable.’” Now, [Rep. Dennis]Kucinich says he will not make up for those losses.

So heading into tomorrow’s summit we see that, indeed, there is less here than meets the eye. Obama has a proposal with no CBO score, no popular mandate, and no congressional majority. He better have an exit strategy.

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RE: President Obama, Meet Reality

Saner liberals are nervous. Ruth Marcus, who is rooting for ObamaCare to pass, can do the math. Yeah, there might be 50 votes to jam through the Senate whatever can be jammed through via reconciliation, but what about the House? She writes:

With the House down a few members, 217 votes will be needed for passage. The original House measure passed with 220 votes — with 39 Democrats defecting. But two of those yes votes are gone: John Murtha of Pennsylvania died; Robert Wexler of Florida resigned. A third, Neil Abercrombie of Hawaii, is leaving at the end of the month to run for governor. The lone Republican voting for the measure, Joseph Cao of Louisiana, is no longer on board.

Meanwhile, the president’s proposal does not include the anti-abortion language inserted in the House-passed measure by Rep. Bart Stupak (D-Mich.), largely because the Senate would have difficulty fiddling with abortion language under the restrictive rules of the reconciliation process. So Stupak will be gone, and with him another five votes, perhaps more.

There are, Marcus explains, a few liberals like Dennis Kucinich to be wooed back to vote for ObamaCare this time around and some retirees who don’t care if they enrage the voters by voting for a bill they hate. But it still probably doesn’t get Obama to a majority. So Marcus frets: “My worry is that going for broke and failing will leave no time or appetite for a fallback, scaled-down plan. And the moment to do something on health care — not everything, but something significant — will have evaporated, once again.”

This is the essence of Obama: filled with grand plans and a grandiose conception of himself, but short on workable plans, legislative prowess, and strategic thinking. And underneath it all is a deep contempt for the wishes and concerns of average Americans. As Michael Gerson aptly sums up:

Americans have taken every opportunity — the town hall revolt, increasingly lopsided polling, a series of upset elections culminating in Massachusetts — to shout their second thoughts. At this point, for Democratic leaders to insist on their current approach is to insist that Americans are not only misinformed but also dimwitted. And the proposed form of this insistence — enacting health reform through the quick, dirty shove of the reconciliation process — would add coercion to arrogance.

But that, too, is quintessential Obama, the Chicago pol who never much cares what the little people think, because they and critics can be written off, delegitimized, and shouted down.

Unfortunately, with such a political persona, you generally wind up with legislative flops (e.g., the stimulus) or nothing at all. That might suit conservatives, who frankly prefer the status quo to Obama’s Brave New World of health care, but it sure must come as a blow to those who thought Obama would be a transformative president.

Saner liberals are nervous. Ruth Marcus, who is rooting for ObamaCare to pass, can do the math. Yeah, there might be 50 votes to jam through the Senate whatever can be jammed through via reconciliation, but what about the House? She writes:

With the House down a few members, 217 votes will be needed for passage. The original House measure passed with 220 votes — with 39 Democrats defecting. But two of those yes votes are gone: John Murtha of Pennsylvania died; Robert Wexler of Florida resigned. A third, Neil Abercrombie of Hawaii, is leaving at the end of the month to run for governor. The lone Republican voting for the measure, Joseph Cao of Louisiana, is no longer on board.

Meanwhile, the president’s proposal does not include the anti-abortion language inserted in the House-passed measure by Rep. Bart Stupak (D-Mich.), largely because the Senate would have difficulty fiddling with abortion language under the restrictive rules of the reconciliation process. So Stupak will be gone, and with him another five votes, perhaps more.

There are, Marcus explains, a few liberals like Dennis Kucinich to be wooed back to vote for ObamaCare this time around and some retirees who don’t care if they enrage the voters by voting for a bill they hate. But it still probably doesn’t get Obama to a majority. So Marcus frets: “My worry is that going for broke and failing will leave no time or appetite for a fallback, scaled-down plan. And the moment to do something on health care — not everything, but something significant — will have evaporated, once again.”

This is the essence of Obama: filled with grand plans and a grandiose conception of himself, but short on workable plans, legislative prowess, and strategic thinking. And underneath it all is a deep contempt for the wishes and concerns of average Americans. As Michael Gerson aptly sums up:

Americans have taken every opportunity — the town hall revolt, increasingly lopsided polling, a series of upset elections culminating in Massachusetts — to shout their second thoughts. At this point, for Democratic leaders to insist on their current approach is to insist that Americans are not only misinformed but also dimwitted. And the proposed form of this insistence — enacting health reform through the quick, dirty shove of the reconciliation process — would add coercion to arrogance.

But that, too, is quintessential Obama, the Chicago pol who never much cares what the little people think, because they and critics can be written off, delegitimized, and shouted down.

Unfortunately, with such a political persona, you generally wind up with legislative flops (e.g., the stimulus) or nothing at all. That might suit conservatives, who frankly prefer the status quo to Obama’s Brave New World of health care, but it sure must come as a blow to those who thought Obama would be a transformative president.

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Who’s Being Set Up on Health Care?

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell on Fox News Sunday declined to say if there were enough votes to block Harry Reid from jamming ObamaCare through using reconciliation. He did, however, seem quite pleased to use the prospect of reconciliation to taunt the Democrats:

“You know, we’ve witnessed the ‘Cornhusker kickback,’ the ‘Louisiana purchase,’ ‘the Gatorade,’ the special deal for Florida. Now they are suggesting they might use a device which has never been used the for this kind of major systemic reform. We know it would be — the only thing bipartisan about it would be the opposition to it, because a number of Democrats have said, ‘Don’t do this. This is not the way to go.’ I think they’re having a hard time getting the message here. The American people do not want this bill to pass. And it strikes me as rather arrogant to say, ‘Well, we’re going to give it to you anyway, and we’ll use whatever device is available to achieve that end.’”

And on the health-care summit, he asked: “But if they’re going lay out the plan they want to pass four days in advance, then why are — what are we discussing on Thursday?” To set you up, Senator.

But on second thought, who is really being set up here? The Republicans have made their principled stance against a massive tax-and-spend health-care bill and against the notion that we should force Americans to buy insurance they don’t want. The public overwhelmingly agrees with the Republican stance. So those who are being set up for a monumentally unpopular vote on a measure that may never pass the House (Is anyone certain Nancy Pelosi has anything close to 218 votes?) are the Senate Democrats, who once again will be forced to choose between the strong sentiments of their constituents and fidelity to the ultraliberal and endangered Democratic leadership.

As on the reconciliation vote count, McConnell wouldn’t say whether Republicans could pick up 10 seats this year. But one suspects the chances will improve if Obama and Reid really intend to try to jam through ObamaCare. McConnell certainly thinks so.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell on Fox News Sunday declined to say if there were enough votes to block Harry Reid from jamming ObamaCare through using reconciliation. He did, however, seem quite pleased to use the prospect of reconciliation to taunt the Democrats:

“You know, we’ve witnessed the ‘Cornhusker kickback,’ the ‘Louisiana purchase,’ ‘the Gatorade,’ the special deal for Florida. Now they are suggesting they might use a device which has never been used the for this kind of major systemic reform. We know it would be — the only thing bipartisan about it would be the opposition to it, because a number of Democrats have said, ‘Don’t do this. This is not the way to go.’ I think they’re having a hard time getting the message here. The American people do not want this bill to pass. And it strikes me as rather arrogant to say, ‘Well, we’re going to give it to you anyway, and we’ll use whatever device is available to achieve that end.’”

And on the health-care summit, he asked: “But if they’re going lay out the plan they want to pass four days in advance, then why are — what are we discussing on Thursday?” To set you up, Senator.

But on second thought, who is really being set up here? The Republicans have made their principled stance against a massive tax-and-spend health-care bill and against the notion that we should force Americans to buy insurance they don’t want. The public overwhelmingly agrees with the Republican stance. So those who are being set up for a monumentally unpopular vote on a measure that may never pass the House (Is anyone certain Nancy Pelosi has anything close to 218 votes?) are the Senate Democrats, who once again will be forced to choose between the strong sentiments of their constituents and fidelity to the ultraliberal and endangered Democratic leadership.

As on the reconciliation vote count, McConnell wouldn’t say whether Republicans could pick up 10 seats this year. But one suspects the chances will improve if Obama and Reid really intend to try to jam through ObamaCare. McConnell certainly thinks so.

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Breaking the Cynicism Meter

Republicans have long suspected that the Obama health-care summit is a setup. After all, the first ground rule seems to be: “I get ObamaCare.” But sometimes even the Democrats outdo themselves in the cynicism department. Roll Call reports:

Senate Democrats say they see no need to abandon the idea of using reconciliation to pass health care reform this year just because President Barack Obama has scheduled a bipartisan summit next week to try to break the impasse on Capitol Hill. . .Given the unified GOP opposition to their health care effort, Senate Democrats argued just before departing for the Presidents Day recess that Obama’s summit is no reason to shelve reconciliation as a potential strategy. The tactic would allow Democrats pass certain aspects of health care reform with just 51 votes.

“I think it should be constantly pursued,” Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.) said Thursday when asked whether Democrats should take a break from drafting a reconciliation bill until after Obama’s summit.

“I think the Republicans are pretty committed to the notion that obstructing everything that President Obama would like to accomplish is very key to their base and their political success,” Whitehouse added. “I don’t see them departing from that strategy.”

Nevertheless, there is reason to believe they lack the votes to utilize reconciliation. (“Some moderate Senate Democrats have already announced their opposition to a reconciliation bill regardless of what is in it.”) And that is before we get to the merits. It isn’t at all clear that, post-Scott Brown, there are votes for what’s in ObamaCare (e.g., massive tax hikes, $500 billion in cuts to Medicare with no real reform element, forcing people to buy health-care plans they don’t want from Big Insurance). Wouldn’t Ben Nelson and Blanche Lincoln (and maybe others as well) jump at the chance to return to the good graces of voters whom they have enraged?

Then on the House side, we hear that Nancy Pelosi may be 100 votes short of a majority to pass ObamaCare. As Michael Barone explains:

So you, as a Democratic member with potentially serious opposition, do the political caucus. If you vote for the Senate bill, you’re voting for something that has 35% support nationwide and probably a little less than that in your district. You will have voted for the Cornhusker Hustle and the Louisiana Purchase. Your Republican opponent will ask why you voted for something that gave taxpayers in Nebraska and Louisiana better treatment than the people you represent (there are no Democratic House members running for reelection in those two states: Nebraska has only Republican House members and the single Louisiana House Democrat is running for the Senate). The only protection you have against this is the assurance that the Senate parliamentarian and scared incumbent senators will come through for you, and that Harry Reid will pursue a steady course.

So your response to the leadership is either, I gotta think about this, or, Hell no. The House Democratic leadership’s problem is that it cannot credibly promise that the Senate will keep its part of the bargain.

So the bottom line: it is hard to believe Obama is operating in good faith. But that’s OK with conservatives, independents, and the two-thirds of us who don’t want a government takeover of health care. Obama still doesn’t have the votes, and those lawmakers who see their careers passing before their eyes probably don’t even want a vote on it. Obama has done enough damage to their re-election prospects already.

Republicans have long suspected that the Obama health-care summit is a setup. After all, the first ground rule seems to be: “I get ObamaCare.” But sometimes even the Democrats outdo themselves in the cynicism department. Roll Call reports:

Senate Democrats say they see no need to abandon the idea of using reconciliation to pass health care reform this year just because President Barack Obama has scheduled a bipartisan summit next week to try to break the impasse on Capitol Hill. . .Given the unified GOP opposition to their health care effort, Senate Democrats argued just before departing for the Presidents Day recess that Obama’s summit is no reason to shelve reconciliation as a potential strategy. The tactic would allow Democrats pass certain aspects of health care reform with just 51 votes.

“I think it should be constantly pursued,” Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.) said Thursday when asked whether Democrats should take a break from drafting a reconciliation bill until after Obama’s summit.

“I think the Republicans are pretty committed to the notion that obstructing everything that President Obama would like to accomplish is very key to their base and their political success,” Whitehouse added. “I don’t see them departing from that strategy.”

Nevertheless, there is reason to believe they lack the votes to utilize reconciliation. (“Some moderate Senate Democrats have already announced their opposition to a reconciliation bill regardless of what is in it.”) And that is before we get to the merits. It isn’t at all clear that, post-Scott Brown, there are votes for what’s in ObamaCare (e.g., massive tax hikes, $500 billion in cuts to Medicare with no real reform element, forcing people to buy health-care plans they don’t want from Big Insurance). Wouldn’t Ben Nelson and Blanche Lincoln (and maybe others as well) jump at the chance to return to the good graces of voters whom they have enraged?

Then on the House side, we hear that Nancy Pelosi may be 100 votes short of a majority to pass ObamaCare. As Michael Barone explains:

So you, as a Democratic member with potentially serious opposition, do the political caucus. If you vote for the Senate bill, you’re voting for something that has 35% support nationwide and probably a little less than that in your district. You will have voted for the Cornhusker Hustle and the Louisiana Purchase. Your Republican opponent will ask why you voted for something that gave taxpayers in Nebraska and Louisiana better treatment than the people you represent (there are no Democratic House members running for reelection in those two states: Nebraska has only Republican House members and the single Louisiana House Democrat is running for the Senate). The only protection you have against this is the assurance that the Senate parliamentarian and scared incumbent senators will come through for you, and that Harry Reid will pursue a steady course.

So your response to the leadership is either, I gotta think about this, or, Hell no. The House Democratic leadership’s problem is that it cannot credibly promise that the Senate will keep its part of the bargain.

So the bottom line: it is hard to believe Obama is operating in good faith. But that’s OK with conservatives, independents, and the two-thirds of us who don’t want a government takeover of health care. Obama still doesn’t have the votes, and those lawmakers who see their careers passing before their eyes probably don’t even want a vote on it. Obama has done enough damage to their re-election prospects already.

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Re: This Would Certainly Be Hope ‘N Change

It is becoming the week for bipartisan foreign policy. We saw a group of Democratic and Republican senators call for the Christmas Day bomber to be treated as an enemy combatant. We saw the 9/11 commission chiefs call for a reexamination of our handling of terrorists. Now a large bipartsian group is demanding those “crippling sanctions” on Iran. Senators Evan Bayh (D-Indiana), Jon Kyl (R-Arizona), Joe Lieberman (I-Connecticut), Chuck Schumer (D-New York), John McCain (R-Arizona), Robert Casey (D-Pennsylvania), Johnny Isakson (R-Georgia), Ben Cardin (D-Maryland), and David Vitter (R-Louisiana) sent a letter to the president calling for him to abide by his own one-year deadline on diplomacy and impose real pressure on the Iranian regime. The letter reads in part:

We believe that it is extremely important for the world to know that the United States means what it says, and that we in fact do what we say we are going to do. As you rightly stated in your Nobel Prize acceptance speech in Oslo, “If we want a lasting peace, then the words of the international community must mean something. Those regimes that break the rules must be held accountable. Sanctions must exact a real price.”

We understand that your Administration is likely to pursue a fifth sanctions resolution at the United Nations Security Council. We strongly support your Administration’s painstaking diplomacy in support of this goal and hope that it succeeds in securing measures that stand a reasonable chance of changing the behavior of Iran’s government for the better. However, based on previous experience, we are acutely aware of the limits of Security Council action, in particular given the likely resistance to meaningful sanctions by the People’s Republic of China. We note with dismay the recent statement of China’s ambassador to the United Nations that, “This is not the right time or right moment for sanctions, because the diplomatic efforts are still going on.”

The senators urge Obama to “pursue parallel and complementary measures, outside the Security Council, to increase the pressure on the Iranian government.” They note that the president already has authority to do so under existing law, and that the senators “are also committed to quickly passing new comprehensive sanctions legislation in Congress that will provide you with additional authorities to pressure Iran, and urge you to make full use of them.”

Once again, it seems Obama is trailing, not leading. There is a bipartisan consensus to at least extract ourselves from the morass of engagement. One wonders what alternative course of action Obama really believes there is. Do pin-prick sanctions focused supposedly on only certain elements within the Iranian regime offer any realistic hope of success? Or is Obama edging closer to a containment strategy, in which meaningful sanctions and military action are ruled out, leaving only the option of living with a nuclear-armed revolutionary Islamic state? We will find out soon enough whether Obama intends to go down in history as the American president who allowed such a regime to go nuclear. In the meantime, these lawmakers would do well to keep up the drumbeat. I suspect it will have to get very loud before the administration acts.

It is becoming the week for bipartisan foreign policy. We saw a group of Democratic and Republican senators call for the Christmas Day bomber to be treated as an enemy combatant. We saw the 9/11 commission chiefs call for a reexamination of our handling of terrorists. Now a large bipartsian group is demanding those “crippling sanctions” on Iran. Senators Evan Bayh (D-Indiana), Jon Kyl (R-Arizona), Joe Lieberman (I-Connecticut), Chuck Schumer (D-New York), John McCain (R-Arizona), Robert Casey (D-Pennsylvania), Johnny Isakson (R-Georgia), Ben Cardin (D-Maryland), and David Vitter (R-Louisiana) sent a letter to the president calling for him to abide by his own one-year deadline on diplomacy and impose real pressure on the Iranian regime. The letter reads in part:

We believe that it is extremely important for the world to know that the United States means what it says, and that we in fact do what we say we are going to do. As you rightly stated in your Nobel Prize acceptance speech in Oslo, “If we want a lasting peace, then the words of the international community must mean something. Those regimes that break the rules must be held accountable. Sanctions must exact a real price.”

We understand that your Administration is likely to pursue a fifth sanctions resolution at the United Nations Security Council. We strongly support your Administration’s painstaking diplomacy in support of this goal and hope that it succeeds in securing measures that stand a reasonable chance of changing the behavior of Iran’s government for the better. However, based on previous experience, we are acutely aware of the limits of Security Council action, in particular given the likely resistance to meaningful sanctions by the People’s Republic of China. We note with dismay the recent statement of China’s ambassador to the United Nations that, “This is not the right time or right moment for sanctions, because the diplomatic efforts are still going on.”

The senators urge Obama to “pursue parallel and complementary measures, outside the Security Council, to increase the pressure on the Iranian government.” They note that the president already has authority to do so under existing law, and that the senators “are also committed to quickly passing new comprehensive sanctions legislation in Congress that will provide you with additional authorities to pressure Iran, and urge you to make full use of them.”

Once again, it seems Obama is trailing, not leading. There is a bipartisan consensus to at least extract ourselves from the morass of engagement. One wonders what alternative course of action Obama really believes there is. Do pin-prick sanctions focused supposedly on only certain elements within the Iranian regime offer any realistic hope of success? Or is Obama edging closer to a containment strategy, in which meaningful sanctions and military action are ruled out, leaving only the option of living with a nuclear-armed revolutionary Islamic state? We will find out soon enough whether Obama intends to go down in history as the American president who allowed such a regime to go nuclear. In the meantime, these lawmakers would do well to keep up the drumbeat. I suspect it will have to get very loud before the administration acts.

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J Street Is Ba-a-a-ck

When last we left the J Street gang, they were enjoying their Washington confab — though with many fewer congressional “hosts” once it became clear what the group’s agenda really was and what sort of Israel-bashing “artists” planned to entertain the assembled crowd. Then the conference itself proved informative. We learned that the J Streeters didn’t fancy calling themselves “pro-Israel,” at least not on college campuses. And we learned that what really got their juices flowing was a healthy dose of anti-anti-Iranian-regime propaganda and good old-fashioned neocon-bashing. Alas, there’s not much of a market for that on Capitol Hill, so their “lobbying” devolved into some mushy nothingness in which lawmakers were asked to do something to show they favored a two-state solution. (Gutsy stuff from these J Streeters, eh?)

Soon afterward we learned that J Street and NIAC shared some interesting conference calls, the object of which seemed to be, among other things, to get Dennis Ross. J Street didn’t like any of the Iran-sanction measures floating around Congress but seemed powerless to influence the votes.

So now that our memories are refreshed (ever since “engagement with Iran” became a laugh line, they’ve been sort of quiet), we see this report that J Street will “be increasing the number and amount of its contributions to US Congressional candidates by at least 50 percent in the coming year. The announcement comes a few weeks ahead of J Street’s first planned trip to bring members of Congress to Israel.” One wonders if Jimmy Carter and Mary Robinson are to be the tour guides.

And who are the recipients of the not-to-be-called-pro-Israel-if-it’s-inconvenient gang’s largesse? There are a bunch:

The 41 endorsees include one Republican, Rep. Charles Boustany of Louisiana, and one of the two Muslim members of Congress, Rep. Keith Ellison of Minnesota. Eight Jewish members also received JStreetPAC’s nod, including representatives Steve Cohen of Tennessee, Susan Davis of California, Barney Frank of Massachusetts and John Yarmuth of Kentucky, as well as the only senator on the list, Russ Feingold of Wisconsin.

Also on the list are Bob Filner of California, Jared Polis of Colorado, and Jan Schakowsky of Illinois.

Well, no one can excuse himself by pleading ignorance this time around, as did many of the “hosts” when confronted with J Street’s record in October. These lawmakers must be well aware of J Street’s anti-anti-Iran agenda and be quite enamored of its Israel-can-do-no-right rhetoric. One wonders if these lawmakers’ constituents share these views. That’s what elections are for, I suppose. We’ll find out soon enough whether there’s a market for Israel-bashing and Iran-sanction opposition.

When last we left the J Street gang, they were enjoying their Washington confab — though with many fewer congressional “hosts” once it became clear what the group’s agenda really was and what sort of Israel-bashing “artists” planned to entertain the assembled crowd. Then the conference itself proved informative. We learned that the J Streeters didn’t fancy calling themselves “pro-Israel,” at least not on college campuses. And we learned that what really got their juices flowing was a healthy dose of anti-anti-Iranian-regime propaganda and good old-fashioned neocon-bashing. Alas, there’s not much of a market for that on Capitol Hill, so their “lobbying” devolved into some mushy nothingness in which lawmakers were asked to do something to show they favored a two-state solution. (Gutsy stuff from these J Streeters, eh?)

Soon afterward we learned that J Street and NIAC shared some interesting conference calls, the object of which seemed to be, among other things, to get Dennis Ross. J Street didn’t like any of the Iran-sanction measures floating around Congress but seemed powerless to influence the votes.

So now that our memories are refreshed (ever since “engagement with Iran” became a laugh line, they’ve been sort of quiet), we see this report that J Street will “be increasing the number and amount of its contributions to US Congressional candidates by at least 50 percent in the coming year. The announcement comes a few weeks ahead of J Street’s first planned trip to bring members of Congress to Israel.” One wonders if Jimmy Carter and Mary Robinson are to be the tour guides.

And who are the recipients of the not-to-be-called-pro-Israel-if-it’s-inconvenient gang’s largesse? There are a bunch:

The 41 endorsees include one Republican, Rep. Charles Boustany of Louisiana, and one of the two Muslim members of Congress, Rep. Keith Ellison of Minnesota. Eight Jewish members also received JStreetPAC’s nod, including representatives Steve Cohen of Tennessee, Susan Davis of California, Barney Frank of Massachusetts and John Yarmuth of Kentucky, as well as the only senator on the list, Russ Feingold of Wisconsin.

Also on the list are Bob Filner of California, Jared Polis of Colorado, and Jan Schakowsky of Illinois.

Well, no one can excuse himself by pleading ignorance this time around, as did many of the “hosts” when confronted with J Street’s record in October. These lawmakers must be well aware of J Street’s anti-anti-Iran agenda and be quite enamored of its Israel-can-do-no-right rhetoric. One wonders if these lawmakers’ constituents share these views. That’s what elections are for, I suppose. We’ll find out soon enough whether there’s a market for Israel-bashing and Iran-sanction opposition.

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Man-Made Disaster

It is, of course, axiomatic that George W. Bush was to blame for natural disasters that struck during his presidency. In the case of Hurricane Katrina, it goes without saying that Bush failed on three major fronts: First, he did not go back decades in time and demand construction of more resistant levies. Second, he did not force Louisiana Governor Kathleen Blanco to accept his offer of National Guard troops to help bail out New Orleans — when she refused, Bush didn’t invoke the Insurrection Act and invade a U.S. state. And third, as Al Gore helpfully pointed out, strong hurricanes are a more likely weather phenomenon when the U.S. ignores carbon-emissions warnings the way the Bush administration did.

And let’s not forget the wise words of one Kanye West, who, after the hurricane struck, told the country on national television, “George Bush doesn’t care about black people.”

An administration-defining, open-and-shut case if ever there was one.

But we didn’t know the half of it. As it turns out, Bush is also responsible for calamities occurring after his presidency. Mother Jones has the scoop on the master of natural disaster:

In the aftermath of September 11 and the Bush administration’s numerous adventures around the world, Haiti returned to its usual state of invisibility in Western eyes. Few people noticed a remarkable report that appeared in the New York Times in 2006, based in part on the analysis of former ambassador Brian Dean Curran, showing how US policy helped to destabalize [sic] Haiti in the years leading up to 2004, when Aristede was again forced out by armed rebels under an accused death squad leader. … For the most part, Europe and the United States have continued to sit by as Haiti has grown poorer and poorer. … It is hard to imagine what a magnitude 7 earthquake might do to a city that on any ordinary day already resembles a disaster area.

Max Blumenthal weighs in with a far more sober reflection on the tragedy. “Of course, the earthquake can’t be blamed on the so-called Washington consensus.” Of course, Max. Good of you to point it out.

Or not. “However,” he goes on,

the Haitian government’s inability to mount even a band-aid relief effort, combined with the fact that the decimated rural economy has overwhelmed Port-au-Prince with new residents, placing enormous stress on its already inadequate infrastructure and leading to the mass casualties we are witnessing, are factors directly linked to American meddling.

In 2004, when the national press corps failed to report the American hand in the coup that overthrew Haitian President Jean Bertrand Aristide, I embarked on a long and exhaustive investigative report on role of right-wing operatives in Washington and Haiti in toppling the government.

Don’t you love the self-congratulatory bit at the end there?  Through his evident grief for dead, maimed, and mourning Haitians, Blumenthal courageously forces himself to settle some personal scores. “Below the fold I have reprinted my piece for Salon.com, “The Other Regime Change” (which the NY Times’ Walt Bogdanovich basically plagiarized), in full.” Never let a crisis go to waste, and all that.

There is bound to be more of this stuff to follow. There is no cliff over which the liberal establishment will not follow the fringe. Some high-profile op-eds blaming Bush should be hitting the New York Times any day now, just in time to coincide with his and Bill Clinton’s joint-effort to help Haiti recover.

It is, of course, axiomatic that George W. Bush was to blame for natural disasters that struck during his presidency. In the case of Hurricane Katrina, it goes without saying that Bush failed on three major fronts: First, he did not go back decades in time and demand construction of more resistant levies. Second, he did not force Louisiana Governor Kathleen Blanco to accept his offer of National Guard troops to help bail out New Orleans — when she refused, Bush didn’t invoke the Insurrection Act and invade a U.S. state. And third, as Al Gore helpfully pointed out, strong hurricanes are a more likely weather phenomenon when the U.S. ignores carbon-emissions warnings the way the Bush administration did.

And let’s not forget the wise words of one Kanye West, who, after the hurricane struck, told the country on national television, “George Bush doesn’t care about black people.”

An administration-defining, open-and-shut case if ever there was one.

But we didn’t know the half of it. As it turns out, Bush is also responsible for calamities occurring after his presidency. Mother Jones has the scoop on the master of natural disaster:

In the aftermath of September 11 and the Bush administration’s numerous adventures around the world, Haiti returned to its usual state of invisibility in Western eyes. Few people noticed a remarkable report that appeared in the New York Times in 2006, based in part on the analysis of former ambassador Brian Dean Curran, showing how US policy helped to destabalize [sic] Haiti in the years leading up to 2004, when Aristede was again forced out by armed rebels under an accused death squad leader. … For the most part, Europe and the United States have continued to sit by as Haiti has grown poorer and poorer. … It is hard to imagine what a magnitude 7 earthquake might do to a city that on any ordinary day already resembles a disaster area.

Max Blumenthal weighs in with a far more sober reflection on the tragedy. “Of course, the earthquake can’t be blamed on the so-called Washington consensus.” Of course, Max. Good of you to point it out.

Or not. “However,” he goes on,

the Haitian government’s inability to mount even a band-aid relief effort, combined with the fact that the decimated rural economy has overwhelmed Port-au-Prince with new residents, placing enormous stress on its already inadequate infrastructure and leading to the mass casualties we are witnessing, are factors directly linked to American meddling.

In 2004, when the national press corps failed to report the American hand in the coup that overthrew Haitian President Jean Bertrand Aristide, I embarked on a long and exhaustive investigative report on role of right-wing operatives in Washington and Haiti in toppling the government.

Don’t you love the self-congratulatory bit at the end there?  Through his evident grief for dead, maimed, and mourning Haitians, Blumenthal courageously forces himself to settle some personal scores. “Below the fold I have reprinted my piece for Salon.com, “The Other Regime Change” (which the NY Times’ Walt Bogdanovich basically plagiarized), in full.” Never let a crisis go to waste, and all that.

There is bound to be more of this stuff to follow. There is no cliff over which the liberal establishment will not follow the fringe. Some high-profile op-eds blaming Bush should be hitting the New York Times any day now, just in time to coincide with his and Bill Clinton’s joint-effort to help Haiti recover.

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Flotsam and Jetsam

Sen. Mitch McConnell sounds the theme for Republicans in 2010: “Every single Democrat in the Senate provided the one vote that passed this 2,700-page monstrosity. It cuts Medicare by half a trillion dollars, raises taxes by half a trillion dollars, and instead of curbing the rate of increase of insurance premiums, most Americans’ insurance premiums are going to go up. This bill is a colossal failure, and that’s why the American people were literally screaming at us, you know, please, don’t pass this bill.”

Even the New York Times figured it out: a lot of Blue State senators blew it in the health-care bill by agreeing to help fund other states’ Medicaid obligations and doing little or nothing for their own states. Perhaps if they hadn’t been in such a mad rush, the Democrats wouldn’t have missed an issue worth billions to their states.

The White House, according to A.P.’s Jennifer Loven, is worried about “getting ahead of the criticism” on the handling of our terrorist watch lists. (By the way, it seems that the “Free Mara!” campaign has plowed new ground, opening up Fox New Sunday to the A.P.’s White House reporter.) One senses that the Obami only perk up about the nature of the international threats we face after the fact, when the political fall-out mounts. And Bill Kristol points out that we are treating the bomber as a “one-off, law enforcement case.”

It is reapportionment time: “The Constitution requires, every decade, the redistribution of congressional districts to account for changes in the country’s population. The projections offer some long-term encouragement for Republicans. President Barack Obama won nine of the 10 states slated to lose seats, and Democrats hold congressional delegation majorities in all but one (Louisiana).”

Jonah Goldberg on the ever-hapless Secretary of Homeland Security: “I watched her on three shows and each time she was more annoying, maddening and absurd than the previous appearance. It is her basic position that the ‘system worked’ because the bureaucrats responded properly after the attack. That the attack was ‘foiled’ by a bad detonator and some civilian passengers is proof, she claims, that her agency is doing everything right. That is just about the dumbest thing she could say, on the merits and politically.” If not for Eric Holder, she’d be the worst cabinet secretary — by far.

Rep. Peter King doesn’t think the system worked: “One thing is clear about the attempted terror attack on Christmas Day — we need answers. There is obviously going to be a full-scale congressional investigation into how Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab was allowed to board Flight 253 and head to the United States with plans to incinerate 300 innocent people. Mere hours after it happened, I was told that this man was known to our government, and that there was a classified file on him that said he definitely was involved in terrorist activity. The exact words the authorities used when they told me were ‘terrorist nexus.’”

Undoing himself in the sycophantic spinning department, Marc Ambinder praises Obama for golfing the day after the Christmas bombing. It’s all part of a strategery. . .  er. . .  strategy, he says.

From Maureen Dowd’s column: “In dismissing the tea parties and pushing through plans the American people obviously don’t want, they have made the fatal disconnect between the representatives and the represented.” Okay, she subcontracted her column to her conservative brother, who apparently is the savvy political analyst in the family.

Noemie Emery explains: “The Left, which invented first ‘hate speech’ (opinions they didn’t like) and then ‘hate crimes’ (crimes judged less on the criminal’s actions than on what he was presumed to be thinking), has now gone on to its epiphany, which is “hate” defined not by your words or deeds but by what other people have decided you really think. ‘Hate’ is no longer what you do or say, but what a liberal says that you think and projects on to you. You are punished for what someone else claims you were thinking. It hardly makes sense, but it does serve a political purpose. You could call it Secondhand Hate.” And it’s all the rage, so to speak, in the Obama era.

Sen. Mitch McConnell sounds the theme for Republicans in 2010: “Every single Democrat in the Senate provided the one vote that passed this 2,700-page monstrosity. It cuts Medicare by half a trillion dollars, raises taxes by half a trillion dollars, and instead of curbing the rate of increase of insurance premiums, most Americans’ insurance premiums are going to go up. This bill is a colossal failure, and that’s why the American people were literally screaming at us, you know, please, don’t pass this bill.”

Even the New York Times figured it out: a lot of Blue State senators blew it in the health-care bill by agreeing to help fund other states’ Medicaid obligations and doing little or nothing for their own states. Perhaps if they hadn’t been in such a mad rush, the Democrats wouldn’t have missed an issue worth billions to their states.

The White House, according to A.P.’s Jennifer Loven, is worried about “getting ahead of the criticism” on the handling of our terrorist watch lists. (By the way, it seems that the “Free Mara!” campaign has plowed new ground, opening up Fox New Sunday to the A.P.’s White House reporter.) One senses that the Obami only perk up about the nature of the international threats we face after the fact, when the political fall-out mounts. And Bill Kristol points out that we are treating the bomber as a “one-off, law enforcement case.”

It is reapportionment time: “The Constitution requires, every decade, the redistribution of congressional districts to account for changes in the country’s population. The projections offer some long-term encouragement for Republicans. President Barack Obama won nine of the 10 states slated to lose seats, and Democrats hold congressional delegation majorities in all but one (Louisiana).”

Jonah Goldberg on the ever-hapless Secretary of Homeland Security: “I watched her on three shows and each time she was more annoying, maddening and absurd than the previous appearance. It is her basic position that the ‘system worked’ because the bureaucrats responded properly after the attack. That the attack was ‘foiled’ by a bad detonator and some civilian passengers is proof, she claims, that her agency is doing everything right. That is just about the dumbest thing she could say, on the merits and politically.” If not for Eric Holder, she’d be the worst cabinet secretary — by far.

Rep. Peter King doesn’t think the system worked: “One thing is clear about the attempted terror attack on Christmas Day — we need answers. There is obviously going to be a full-scale congressional investigation into how Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab was allowed to board Flight 253 and head to the United States with plans to incinerate 300 innocent people. Mere hours after it happened, I was told that this man was known to our government, and that there was a classified file on him that said he definitely was involved in terrorist activity. The exact words the authorities used when they told me were ‘terrorist nexus.’”

Undoing himself in the sycophantic spinning department, Marc Ambinder praises Obama for golfing the day after the Christmas bombing. It’s all part of a strategery. . .  er. . .  strategy, he says.

From Maureen Dowd’s column: “In dismissing the tea parties and pushing through plans the American people obviously don’t want, they have made the fatal disconnect between the representatives and the represented.” Okay, she subcontracted her column to her conservative brother, who apparently is the savvy political analyst in the family.

Noemie Emery explains: “The Left, which invented first ‘hate speech’ (opinions they didn’t like) and then ‘hate crimes’ (crimes judged less on the criminal’s actions than on what he was presumed to be thinking), has now gone on to its epiphany, which is “hate” defined not by your words or deeds but by what other people have decided you really think. ‘Hate’ is no longer what you do or say, but what a liberal says that you think and projects on to you. You are punished for what someone else claims you were thinking. It hardly makes sense, but it does serve a political purpose. You could call it Secondhand Hate.” And it’s all the rage, so to speak, in the Obama era.

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Flotsam and Jetsam

What comes from a commander in chief who sends mixed messages? “Nearly a month after Obama unveiled his revised Afghanistan strategy, military and civilian leaders have come away with differing views of several fundamental aspects of the president’s new approach, according to more than a dozen senior administration and military officials involved in Afghanistan policy, all of whom spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss internal deliberations.”

Matthew Continetti: “There really are two Americas. There’s the America of the ‘expert’ schemers, planners, and centralizers inside the Beltway, who think they know what’s good for the people, whether the people like it or not. And there’s the America of just about everyone else. They are no doubt the ones Irving Kristol had in mind when he wrote, ‘The common people in such a democracy are not uncommonly wise, but their experience tends to make them uncommonly sensible.’” It is a good thing indeed that there are more of the latter.

David Axelrod says we will learn to love ObamaCare: “When people focus on what this bill is and not what it isn’t and recognize what an enormous landmark achievement it is, progressive achievement, you’ll see folks rallying around this and not running away from it.” Notice how they assume the public will be awed by the “landmark” quality of the bill. That’s how politicians think; ordinary people tend to focus on what legislation is actually going to do for or to them.

The Washington Post editors blast the Obami’s human-rights policy, seeking to mix economic progress with fundamental rights as “standard doctrine of the Soviet Bloc, which used to argue at every East-West conference that human rights in Czechoslovakia were superior to those in the United States, because one provided government health care that the other lacked.” Ouch. The editors rightly condemn this as a sly effort to downplay democracy, especially in the Middle East: “If the Obama administration believes that liberty is urgently needed in the homelands of al-Qaeda, Ms. Clinton still has offered no sign of it.”

Yes, in the end, all Democrats on health-care “reform” turned out to be liberals in favor of a big government power grab: “We trust voters in Nebraska, Louisiana, Indiana, Virginia and elsewhere noticed that these votes ultimately ensured the passage of a bill that will increase insurance costs, retard medical innovation and sorely damage the country’s fiscal position.” Judging from the polls, I think they are noticing.

Looks like our fellow citizens are our best defense: “Despite the billions spent since 2001 on intelligence and counterterrorism programs, sophisticated airport scanners and elaborate watch lists, it was something simpler that averted disaster on a Christmas Day flight to Detroit: alert and courageous passengers and crew members.”

New York District Attorney Robert Morgenthau on the Obami’s Iran engagement policy: “The president is smoking pot or something if he thinks that being nice to these guys is going to get him anywhere.”

Respected legal scholar Randy Barnett makes the argument that the individual mandate to buy health insurance is unconstitutional: “A mandate requiring all individuals to purchase health insurance would be an unprecedented form of federal action. The government has never required people to buy any good or service as a condition of lawful residence in the United States. . . First, it would impose a duty on individuals as members of society. Second, it would require people to purchase a specific service that would be heavily regulated by the federal government.” And if not unconstitutional, it is at the very least, enormously objectionable to a great number of Americans on both the Right and the Left.

What comes from a commander in chief who sends mixed messages? “Nearly a month after Obama unveiled his revised Afghanistan strategy, military and civilian leaders have come away with differing views of several fundamental aspects of the president’s new approach, according to more than a dozen senior administration and military officials involved in Afghanistan policy, all of whom spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss internal deliberations.”

Matthew Continetti: “There really are two Americas. There’s the America of the ‘expert’ schemers, planners, and centralizers inside the Beltway, who think they know what’s good for the people, whether the people like it or not. And there’s the America of just about everyone else. They are no doubt the ones Irving Kristol had in mind when he wrote, ‘The common people in such a democracy are not uncommonly wise, but their experience tends to make them uncommonly sensible.’” It is a good thing indeed that there are more of the latter.

David Axelrod says we will learn to love ObamaCare: “When people focus on what this bill is and not what it isn’t and recognize what an enormous landmark achievement it is, progressive achievement, you’ll see folks rallying around this and not running away from it.” Notice how they assume the public will be awed by the “landmark” quality of the bill. That’s how politicians think; ordinary people tend to focus on what legislation is actually going to do for or to them.

The Washington Post editors blast the Obami’s human-rights policy, seeking to mix economic progress with fundamental rights as “standard doctrine of the Soviet Bloc, which used to argue at every East-West conference that human rights in Czechoslovakia were superior to those in the United States, because one provided government health care that the other lacked.” Ouch. The editors rightly condemn this as a sly effort to downplay democracy, especially in the Middle East: “If the Obama administration believes that liberty is urgently needed in the homelands of al-Qaeda, Ms. Clinton still has offered no sign of it.”

Yes, in the end, all Democrats on health-care “reform” turned out to be liberals in favor of a big government power grab: “We trust voters in Nebraska, Louisiana, Indiana, Virginia and elsewhere noticed that these votes ultimately ensured the passage of a bill that will increase insurance costs, retard medical innovation and sorely damage the country’s fiscal position.” Judging from the polls, I think they are noticing.

Looks like our fellow citizens are our best defense: “Despite the billions spent since 2001 on intelligence and counterterrorism programs, sophisticated airport scanners and elaborate watch lists, it was something simpler that averted disaster on a Christmas Day flight to Detroit: alert and courageous passengers and crew members.”

New York District Attorney Robert Morgenthau on the Obami’s Iran engagement policy: “The president is smoking pot or something if he thinks that being nice to these guys is going to get him anywhere.”

Respected legal scholar Randy Barnett makes the argument that the individual mandate to buy health insurance is unconstitutional: “A mandate requiring all individuals to purchase health insurance would be an unprecedented form of federal action. The government has never required people to buy any good or service as a condition of lawful residence in the United States. . . First, it would impose a duty on individuals as members of society. Second, it would require people to purchase a specific service that would be heavily regulated by the federal government.” And if not unconstitutional, it is at the very least, enormously objectionable to a great number of Americans on both the Right and the Left.

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Bribe-a-thon

As some have observed, the worse ObamaCare gets, the bigger the bribes needed to induce lawmakers to vote for it:

The process has degenerated into taxpayer-financed payoffs for moderate Democrats who don’t want to be held accountable for wrecking the private insurance that 200 million Americans are happy to have. Louisiana Democratic Sen. Mary Landrieu’s wad of cash, for instance, has been fattened to $300 million.

The Hill details the “side deals” that are piling up to gain the votes of wary lawmakers. In addition to Landrieu, we have:

Before Rep. Joseph Cao (La.) cast the lone Republican vote for the healthcare bill in the House, he secured assurances from President Barack Obama to work on Medicaid funding, loan forgiveness and issues related to two of his local hospitals. …

Besides the promises secured by Cao, the best-known deal involved Reps. Dennis Cardoza and Jim Costa, two Blue Dog Democrats from the Golden State who secured funding for a medical school for California’s Central Valley.

Other lawmakers won carve-outs for their state healthcare systems.

And on and on it goes. Perhaps one effective amendment in the Senate process would be to strip all that out — no state-specific deals, no carve-outs, nothing other than the “merits” of the monstrous bill. How many lawmakers would sign on then? If health-care “reform” promises the nirvana that the Obama/Reid sales team says it will usher in, then its supporters should have no trouble rounding up votes, without the bribe-a-thon, to pass hundreds of billions in new taxes, huge Medicare cuts, a public takeover of health care, and abortion subsidies, right? Well, you see the problem. And that should be a sure-fire sign of just how awful the underlying bill really is.

As some have observed, the worse ObamaCare gets, the bigger the bribes needed to induce lawmakers to vote for it:

The process has degenerated into taxpayer-financed payoffs for moderate Democrats who don’t want to be held accountable for wrecking the private insurance that 200 million Americans are happy to have. Louisiana Democratic Sen. Mary Landrieu’s wad of cash, for instance, has been fattened to $300 million.

The Hill details the “side deals” that are piling up to gain the votes of wary lawmakers. In addition to Landrieu, we have:

Before Rep. Joseph Cao (La.) cast the lone Republican vote for the healthcare bill in the House, he secured assurances from President Barack Obama to work on Medicaid funding, loan forgiveness and issues related to two of his local hospitals. …

Besides the promises secured by Cao, the best-known deal involved Reps. Dennis Cardoza and Jim Costa, two Blue Dog Democrats from the Golden State who secured funding for a medical school for California’s Central Valley.

Other lawmakers won carve-outs for their state healthcare systems.

And on and on it goes. Perhaps one effective amendment in the Senate process would be to strip all that out — no state-specific deals, no carve-outs, nothing other than the “merits” of the monstrous bill. How many lawmakers would sign on then? If health-care “reform” promises the nirvana that the Obama/Reid sales team says it will usher in, then its supporters should have no trouble rounding up votes, without the bribe-a-thon, to pass hundreds of billions in new taxes, huge Medicare cuts, a public takeover of health care, and abortion subsidies, right? Well, you see the problem. And that should be a sure-fire sign of just how awful the underlying bill really is.

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Some Thoughts on Last Night

1. Barack Obama will be the Democratic nominee for President. That was clear before yesterday; absent a complete and unforeseen disaster, it’s a certainty now. Democratic superdelegates will soon begin to break in large numbers for Obama. They have been wanting to do so for some time now; what they needed was a plausible trigger to justify publicly supporting Obama. Last night they got it. Yesterday in the voting booths of North Carolina, the last dog died.

The Clintons have done a lot of damage to our politics over the years, something which Obama tapped into with great skill. They have destroyed a lot of folks who they viewed as obstacles to their power, and so it’s good, very good, that they will not be returning to the White House.

2. Whether Hillary Clinton withdraws or not is a far less important question than it was 48 hours ago. She may formally continue in the race, but as last night’s speeches made clear, the rhetorical swords will be sheathed. And there will be a lot of energy spent in the next several days negotiating a graceful exit for Hillary and Bill Clinton. That may not be easy. Many adjectives apply to the Clintons. Graceful is not one of them.

3. Democrats will begin to rally around Obama and, once Hillarydrops out of the race, he will take a large, perhaps even a commanding, lead over John McCain. In the last month there has been some talk among Republicans that Obama will be an exceptionally weak candidate, on the order of a Dukakis (loser of 40 states), Mondale (loser of 49 states), and McGovern (loser of 49 states). That won’t be the case. Obama is far
more talented and appealing than Dukakis, Mondale, or McGovern ever were.

He also has in place one of the finest political operation the Democrats have ever put together. And beyond that, this year — unlike 1972, 1984, and 1988 — virtually every metric favors Democrats, whether we’re talking about fundraising, party identification, the public’s views on an array of issues, and the energy and excitement among base voters. In addition, it’s hard for an incumbent party to win a third term, particularly in an environment in which voters are longing for change, where the President’s popularity is extremely low, and where 80 percent of the country believes the nation is on the wrong track.

A disturbing sign was that last weekend the GOP lost its second House seat in a special election in two months – this time in Louisiana, in a seat that had been Republican for 34 years and one which Bush carried by 20 points in 2004. It’s true that most congressional races are local rather than national in nature and Woody Jenkins was a particularly weak candidate. Nevertheless, the results in Louisiana could be an ominous sign, especially for down-ballot Republicans.

Read More

1. Barack Obama will be the Democratic nominee for President. That was clear before yesterday; absent a complete and unforeseen disaster, it’s a certainty now. Democratic superdelegates will soon begin to break in large numbers for Obama. They have been wanting to do so for some time now; what they needed was a plausible trigger to justify publicly supporting Obama. Last night they got it. Yesterday in the voting booths of North Carolina, the last dog died.

The Clintons have done a lot of damage to our politics over the years, something which Obama tapped into with great skill. They have destroyed a lot of folks who they viewed as obstacles to their power, and so it’s good, very good, that they will not be returning to the White House.

2. Whether Hillary Clinton withdraws or not is a far less important question than it was 48 hours ago. She may formally continue in the race, but as last night’s speeches made clear, the rhetorical swords will be sheathed. And there will be a lot of energy spent in the next several days negotiating a graceful exit for Hillary and Bill Clinton. That may not be easy. Many adjectives apply to the Clintons. Graceful is not one of them.

3. Democrats will begin to rally around Obama and, once Hillarydrops out of the race, he will take a large, perhaps even a commanding, lead over John McCain. In the last month there has been some talk among Republicans that Obama will be an exceptionally weak candidate, on the order of a Dukakis (loser of 40 states), Mondale (loser of 49 states), and McGovern (loser of 49 states). That won’t be the case. Obama is far
more talented and appealing than Dukakis, Mondale, or McGovern ever were.

He also has in place one of the finest political operation the Democrats have ever put together. And beyond that, this year — unlike 1972, 1984, and 1988 — virtually every metric favors Democrats, whether we’re talking about fundraising, party identification, the public’s views on an array of issues, and the energy and excitement among base voters. In addition, it’s hard for an incumbent party to win a third term, particularly in an environment in which voters are longing for change, where the President’s popularity is extremely low, and where 80 percent of the country believes the nation is on the wrong track.

A disturbing sign was that last weekend the GOP lost its second House seat in a special election in two months – this time in Louisiana, in a seat that had been Republican for 34 years and one which Bush carried by 20 points in 2004. It’s true that most congressional races are local rather than national in nature and Woody Jenkins was a particularly weak candidate. Nevertheless, the results in Louisiana could be an ominous sign, especially for down-ballot Republicans.

4. What Senator McCain has working in his favor is that he has the greatest potential of any Republican on the national stage to reach beyond his base. That’s especially important in a year when voters are down on the GOP. The challenge for McCain remains his capacity to energize the Republican base while appealing beyond it. That is always the task of a nominee; this year, given McCain’s history with conservatives, it will be harder than most.

Also working in McCain’s favor is that Obama is a completely orthodox liberal in a nation that remains, for the most part, center-right. And Obama’s associations with Reverend Wright, William Ayers, and Tony Rezko have raised questions about his judgment and character. It remains to be seen if, in a general election, these concerns metastasize. One more troubling revelation about Obama’s associations, it could be quite
damaging to him. Hairline fractures can easily turn into complete breaks. And of course if Jeremiah Wright decides to re-emerge and hold forth on the virtues of “black liberation theology” and the vices of America, it could have a shattering effect on the Obama campaign.

5. The other thing McCain has working in his favor is that Obama has shown a limited appeal among rural and blue-collar voters, seniors, Catholics, and Latinos. Hillary Clinton has also done much better than Obama among conservative white Democrats. These demographic groups, and hence states like Ohio and Pennsylvania, are ones McCain has a chance to win. And a state like Florida is one where Hillary Clinton would have been a far more formidable opponent than Obama.

Obama’s strength has been with African Americans; in North Carolina, for example, he won more than 90 percent of the black vote amidst record turnout. He also runs extremely strong among young voters (18-29 years old), highly educated voters, in urban areas, and among elites — voters with high incomes and graduate degrees. Obama also has a realistic chance to carry Rocky Mountain States like Colorado and Nevada.

David Brooks has said that “demography is king” in this election. That has proven mostly true, and when it comes to the general election Obama has shown some worrisome (for Democrats) signs. That doesn’t mean he can’t surmount them, especially in a year that ought to favor Democrats. But it does mean that he is not without vulnerabilities.

6. Obama’s speech last night was a revealing roadmap to what he perceives as his own weaknesses. He ridiculed the notion of using “labels” to describe himself; it is, he has insisted in the past, part of the “old politics” that Obama alone can transcend. But let’s be specific: the label Obama has in mind is “liberal,” and in this instance it fits quite nicely. As I’ve argued elsewhere, Obama is an utterly conventional liberal – arguably the most liberal person running for president since McGovern. Obama has shown no willingness to challenge liberal orthodoxy. What he does not understand, or what he will not admit, is that a person’s political ideology reveals important things not only about his stance on individual issues, but also about his worldview, his assumptions and the beliefs that animate his political activism. In the past, the “liberal” label has been politically lethal for those running for President. Obama understands this – and since he can’t alter his record, he is going to do everything he can to smash the categories.

The man who last October proudly declared that he decided he wouldn’t wear an American flag pin shortly after 9/11 because it “became a substitute for I think true patriotism” last night spoke movingly about the “flag draped over my grandfather’s coffin” and what that flag stands for.

The man whose pastor, close friend and confidant referred to the United States as the “U.S. of K.K.K.” and whose wife declared our country to be “downright mean” and who has for the first time in her adult life found reason to be proud of America spoke glowingly about “the America I know.” Obama added this: “That’s why I’m in this race. I love this country too much to see it divided and distracted at this moment in history. I believe in our ability to perfect this union because it’s the only reason I’m standing here today. And I know the promise of America because I have lived it.”

The man who in San Francisco talked about the bitterness of small-town Americans who “cling” to their religion and guns and xenophobia, told us about the “simple truth I learned all those years ago when I worked in the shadows of a shuttered steel mill on the South Side of Chicago.”

The man who believes the Iraq war is irredeemably lost and wants to withdraw all major combat troops within 16 months — which would lead to a devastating American defeat, mass death and possibly genocide, a resurgent al Qaeda and a strengthened Iran – said, “I trust the American people to recognize that it’s not surrender to end the war in Iraq so that we can rebuild our military and go after al Qaeda’s leaders.”

The man who in the first year of his presidency wants to meet individually and without preconditions with the leaders of Iran, Syria, Venezuela, Cuba, and North Korea declared last night, “I trust the American people to understand that it’s not weakness, but wisdom to talk not just to our friends, but our enemies – like Roosevelt did, and Kennedy did, and Truman did.” (The notion that Obama is in the same foreign policy tradition as FDR, JFK, and Truman is not a serious one; he is far closer to McGovern’s appeal to “Come Home, America.”)

Obama’s speech, then, was an effort to pivot to the general election and reposition himself as a post-partisan, post-ideological, mainstream, and unifying figure. That effort was fairly effective for a while. But the Obama magic is fading fast. As he showed last night, he remains an appealing figure. He is still able to make high-minded (if largely empty) appeals. Yet many of us, having watched him closely over the last few months, hear him differently than we once did. The words are largely the same; it’s the man delivering them who somehow seems different.

Barack Obama is still the favorite to be the next President. But he’s a good deal weaker than he was, and a long and withering campaign lies ahead.

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You Know Things Are Going Well in Iraq When . . .

. . . the New York Times doesn’t feature a single front-page story about the war. The lead article this morning is about the Fed chairman’s testimony to Congress. Other articles report on Putin’s successor, on problems with a blood thinner drug, on Louisiana’s new governor, and the death of William F. Buckley Jr. Nada about Iraq. Let’s hope that trend continues: no news is good news.

. . . the New York Times doesn’t feature a single front-page story about the war. The lead article this morning is about the Fed chairman’s testimony to Congress. Other articles report on Putin’s successor, on problems with a blood thinner drug, on Louisiana’s new governor, and the death of William F. Buckley Jr. Nada about Iraq. Let’s hope that trend continues: no news is good news.

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Clever McCain

John McCain is moving ever closer to the 1191 delegate total needed to secure the nomination. (He picked up some Michigan and Louisiana delegates on Saturday, pushing him over 900.) He has only tentatively begun to attack potential foe Barack Obama, but he did find an issue on which to gain a rhetorical and perhaps tactical advantage. Friday McCain challenged Obama to make good on his promise to accept public campaign financing (Obama’s attachment to privately raised money gives you a sense of the financial upper hand the Democrats potentially will enjoy in November). If Obama declines or comes up with a preposterous counteroffer, his shiny image may get scuffed up. (The Washington Post warns him not to retreat from his prior pledge: “But this kind of backtracking and parsing isn’t what the millions of voters who have been inspired by Mr. Obama are looking for. It’s not benefitting Mr. Obama’s well-earned image as a champion of reform.”) If he accepts, an enormous financial advantage would be erased, as Obama would have to return the large sums he’s raised on his own. Either way, it seems a smart move for McCain.

John McCain is moving ever closer to the 1191 delegate total needed to secure the nomination. (He picked up some Michigan and Louisiana delegates on Saturday, pushing him over 900.) He has only tentatively begun to attack potential foe Barack Obama, but he did find an issue on which to gain a rhetorical and perhaps tactical advantage. Friday McCain challenged Obama to make good on his promise to accept public campaign financing (Obama’s attachment to privately raised money gives you a sense of the financial upper hand the Democrats potentially will enjoy in November). If Obama declines or comes up with a preposterous counteroffer, his shiny image may get scuffed up. (The Washington Post warns him not to retreat from his prior pledge: “But this kind of backtracking and parsing isn’t what the millions of voters who have been inspired by Mr. Obama are looking for. It’s not benefitting Mr. Obama’s well-earned image as a champion of reform.”) If he accepts, an enormous financial advantage would be erased, as Obama would have to return the large sums he’s raised on his own. Either way, it seems a smart move for McCain.

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Things Were Going Just Fine

John McCain had been on a roll going into Saturday’s elections, but his loss in Kansas and the close races in Louisiana and Washington stopped that short.

On Friday at CPAC, former U.N. Ambassador John Bolton sung McCain’s praises and then heartily endorsed him on Saturday. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell and Fred Thompson got on the McCain bandwagon too. The Wall Street Journal’s editors disparaged the notion that social conservatives should sit home or vote for Hillary Clinton ( “What they can’t do with any credibility is claim that helping to elect a liberal President will further the causes that these conservatives claim to believe most deeply in”) while President Reagan’s National Security Advisor Robert McFarlane doesn’t think much of the talk show critics’ suggestion that we hand management of the war over to one of the Democrats. Newt Gingrich recognizes the obvious ( “He’s had a lifetime voting record that’s dramatically more conservative than Clinton and Obama”) and Larry Kudlow voices support as well.

Bill Kristol thinks the anti-McCain sentiment among conservatives is exaggerated, and a simple account from the campaign trail reveals a obvious truth: lots of conservatives have supported McCain all along. Otherwise he wouldn’t be closing in on the magic delegate number of 1191. (A Newsweek poll shows 75% of conservatives and 69% of conservatives would be “happy” with McCain as the nominee.)

Nevertheless, the best thing McCain can do now is win the trio of primaries on Tuesday and Wisconsin the following week. I suspect that he won’t have any luck chasing Huckabee out of the race until he hits the winning total of 1191 delegates.

John McCain had been on a roll going into Saturday’s elections, but his loss in Kansas and the close races in Louisiana and Washington stopped that short.

On Friday at CPAC, former U.N. Ambassador John Bolton sung McCain’s praises and then heartily endorsed him on Saturday. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell and Fred Thompson got on the McCain bandwagon too. The Wall Street Journal’s editors disparaged the notion that social conservatives should sit home or vote for Hillary Clinton ( “What they can’t do with any credibility is claim that helping to elect a liberal President will further the causes that these conservatives claim to believe most deeply in”) while President Reagan’s National Security Advisor Robert McFarlane doesn’t think much of the talk show critics’ suggestion that we hand management of the war over to one of the Democrats. Newt Gingrich recognizes the obvious ( “He’s had a lifetime voting record that’s dramatically more conservative than Clinton and Obama”) and Larry Kudlow voices support as well.

Bill Kristol thinks the anti-McCain sentiment among conservatives is exaggerated, and a simple account from the campaign trail reveals a obvious truth: lots of conservatives have supported McCain all along. Otherwise he wouldn’t be closing in on the magic delegate number of 1191. (A Newsweek poll shows 75% of conservatives and 69% of conservatives would be “happy” with McCain as the nominee.)

Nevertheless, the best thing McCain can do now is win the trio of primaries on Tuesday and Wisconsin the following week. I suspect that he won’t have any luck chasing Huckabee out of the race until he hits the winning total of 1191 delegates.

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Saturday Votes

In voting today, Mike Huckabee won big with nearly 60% of the vote in the Kansas caucus. Huckabee barnstormed yesterday; John McCain did not campaign there. In early returns, McCain also is trailing Huckabee in Louisiana and, remarkably, in Washington as well, where it appears that very few votes are being cast. (There was an issue in which thosuands of ballots were invalidated due to voters’ failure to sign the ballot “oath” identifying themselves as either Democrat or Republican.) 
                                                                                                                              In the CPAC the straw poll, 24% of which occurred before Mitt Romney dropped out, McCain came in a point behind Romney (34-35%) while Mike Huckabee took 12%.(Once Romney dropped out McCain led in the straw poll voting 37%-32%.) McCain is likely pleased that  the result wasn’t far worse from a group in which 57% believe we should withdraw from the U.N. and 80% back a policy which says we should follow existing laws even if it means deporting illegal aliens. Looking ahead to Tuesday, McCain has 30+ point leads in Maryland and Virginia. It seems that, despite a poor Saturday showing, he is on track to reach his magic delegate number of 1191.

 

Meanwhile, on the Democratic side, Barack Obama won big in Nebraska, Washington and Louisiana. In both Red and Blue states he is racking up impressive wins. Once again, the saving grace for Hillary Clinton is the proportional voting system. Nevertheless, the ground may be shifting and Obama may lead in the delegate count after Tuesday. (He leads in Virginia and Maryland by 20 points.) It could be that the Democratic race has reached its tipping point.

UPDATE: Huckabee edged out McCain 43% to 42% in Louisiana. (Since neither candidate got 50% of the vote, no one receives the delegates that were at stake.) In Washington with 83% of the vote counted, McCain holds a narrow lead. McCain will no doubt hope to get back on track with Tuesday’s primaries.

In voting today, Mike Huckabee won big with nearly 60% of the vote in the Kansas caucus. Huckabee barnstormed yesterday; John McCain did not campaign there. In early returns, McCain also is trailing Huckabee in Louisiana and, remarkably, in Washington as well, where it appears that very few votes are being cast. (There was an issue in which thosuands of ballots were invalidated due to voters’ failure to sign the ballot “oath” identifying themselves as either Democrat or Republican.) 
                                                                                                                              In the CPAC the straw poll, 24% of which occurred before Mitt Romney dropped out, McCain came in a point behind Romney (34-35%) while Mike Huckabee took 12%.(Once Romney dropped out McCain led in the straw poll voting 37%-32%.) McCain is likely pleased that  the result wasn’t far worse from a group in which 57% believe we should withdraw from the U.N. and 80% back a policy which says we should follow existing laws even if it means deporting illegal aliens. Looking ahead to Tuesday, McCain has 30+ point leads in Maryland and Virginia. It seems that, despite a poor Saturday showing, he is on track to reach his magic delegate number of 1191.

 

Meanwhile, on the Democratic side, Barack Obama won big in Nebraska, Washington and Louisiana. In both Red and Blue states he is racking up impressive wins. Once again, the saving grace for Hillary Clinton is the proportional voting system. Nevertheless, the ground may be shifting and Obama may lead in the delegate count after Tuesday. (He leads in Virginia and Maryland by 20 points.) It could be that the Democratic race has reached its tipping point.

UPDATE: Huckabee edged out McCain 43% to 42% in Louisiana. (Since neither candidate got 50% of the vote, no one receives the delegates that were at stake.) In Washington with 83% of the vote counted, McCain holds a narrow lead. McCain will no doubt hope to get back on track with Tuesday’s primaries.

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McCain Has The “Mo”

McCain builds momentum as we head into the weekend. He gains former Rudy backer and ex-Massachusetts Governor Paul Cellucci (and decides to make Romney sweat in his home state) and also nabs former Rudy advisor Steve Forbes. (Fiscal conservatives can argue whether Forbes or McCain advisor Phil Gramm would make a better Treasury Secretary.) Finally, the McCain team advises the media that in the excruciatingly complicated Louisiana caucuses (in which an uncommitted pro-life slate initially won), the delegates have now selected McCain. He nabs 41 of 47 of the state’s delegates.

Little by little the pieces fall into place. Looking at the latest polling I see Mitt Romney leading only in Massachusetts, Colorado and Utah. In many Red states he runs third to MIke Huckabee. It is quite possible Huckabee will gain more delegates than Romney on Tuesday.

McCain builds momentum as we head into the weekend. He gains former Rudy backer and ex-Massachusetts Governor Paul Cellucci (and decides to make Romney sweat in his home state) and also nabs former Rudy advisor Steve Forbes. (Fiscal conservatives can argue whether Forbes or McCain advisor Phil Gramm would make a better Treasury Secretary.) Finally, the McCain team advises the media that in the excruciatingly complicated Louisiana caucuses (in which an uncommitted pro-life slate initially won), the delegates have now selected McCain. He nabs 41 of 47 of the state’s delegates.

Little by little the pieces fall into place. Looking at the latest polling I see Mitt Romney leading only in Massachusetts, Colorado and Utah. In many Red states he runs third to MIke Huckabee. It is quite possible Huckabee will gain more delegates than Romney on Tuesday.

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Will The Other Kennedy Help?

Does Senator Ted Kennedy’s Barack Obama endorsement matter? Well, unlike Maureen Dowd, I don’t think he needs the boost with upscale liberals pining for the second Camelot. However, to the extent organized labor, working-class voters more generally, and other prominent Democratic politicians take their cue from Kennedy, the impact could be significant. It would be a signal that even the stalwart establishment Democrats have had enough of the Bill/Hillary carnival and are ready to move on. Most important, Kennedy may be influential with those 796 super delegates, who make up about 20 percent of the Democratic delegate total. That’s a lot of persuadable Democratic office holders and DNC officials.

Kennedy or no Kennedy, many have looked at the South Carolina totals and remarked, “Yeah, but he’s not going to win California.” That may be, and the demographics there likely favor Hillary. However, California, like all Democratic primaries, awards its delegates proportionally. So Obama still stands to gain a fair share of delegates. The same is true of Hillary-leaning states like New York and New Jersey. On February 5 Obama may be counting on Illinois, Tennessee, Georgia, Alabama, Arkansas, Missouri and maybe even liberal Connecticut (all those Lamont voters).

Given all this, it would seem almost certain that the Democratic race will not be settled on February 5. We will then head on to states like Louisiana (February 9), Maryland and Virginia (February 12), Wisconsin (February 19), Ohio and Texas (March 4) ,and if the political junkies are lucky, maybe even Pennsylvania( April 22).

This may raise an interesting question for voters in my home state of Virginia, which does not require registration by party. As I and many others walk into the booth we will have a choice of which primary to vote in. It may be that the GOP race is far more settled than the Democratic race by then. Hmmm…

Does Senator Ted Kennedy’s Barack Obama endorsement matter? Well, unlike Maureen Dowd, I don’t think he needs the boost with upscale liberals pining for the second Camelot. However, to the extent organized labor, working-class voters more generally, and other prominent Democratic politicians take their cue from Kennedy, the impact could be significant. It would be a signal that even the stalwart establishment Democrats have had enough of the Bill/Hillary carnival and are ready to move on. Most important, Kennedy may be influential with those 796 super delegates, who make up about 20 percent of the Democratic delegate total. That’s a lot of persuadable Democratic office holders and DNC officials.

Kennedy or no Kennedy, many have looked at the South Carolina totals and remarked, “Yeah, but he’s not going to win California.” That may be, and the demographics there likely favor Hillary. However, California, like all Democratic primaries, awards its delegates proportionally. So Obama still stands to gain a fair share of delegates. The same is true of Hillary-leaning states like New York and New Jersey. On February 5 Obama may be counting on Illinois, Tennessee, Georgia, Alabama, Arkansas, Missouri and maybe even liberal Connecticut (all those Lamont voters).

Given all this, it would seem almost certain that the Democratic race will not be settled on February 5. We will then head on to states like Louisiana (February 9), Maryland and Virginia (February 12), Wisconsin (February 19), Ohio and Texas (March 4) ,and if the political junkies are lucky, maybe even Pennsylvania( April 22).

This may raise an interesting question for voters in my home state of Virginia, which does not require registration by party. As I and many others walk into the booth we will have a choice of which primary to vote in. It may be that the GOP race is far more settled than the Democratic race by then. Hmmm…

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About That Bell

John: yes, that bell is ringing rather loudly in Florida. Rudy–according to the latest batch of Florida polling–has slid into a third-place tie in Florida with Huckabee well behind McCain and Romney. Some polls have McCain up slightly and others have Romney in the lead, but all appear to be within the margin of error. This suggests : 1) Romney is gaining by picking up Thompson and Huckabee voters and 2) Rudy’s voters are moving to McCain. (#2 can be seen in California, New Jersey and New York as well.)

The shape of the race in the wake of this development is not yet clear. Are we moving to a two-man race, with conservatives lining up with Romney and moderates with McCain? Perhaps. McCain is certainly not willing to concede the conservative base to Romney. In Florida he is now positioning himself as the solid conservative (while Romney pursues his Washington Outsider theme) in an effort to secure a broad coalition of GOP voters. Romney still must fend off Huckabee, who may be a minor factor in Florida but likely will survive to fight in the February 5 states. But slowly, slowly the face off between the two bitter rivals is taking shape.

If we look beyond Florida, McCain may have the advantage.(And not just because the media and his opponents appear to detest Romney.) He has won South Carolina (Romney came in third). And word now comes that he sort-of won in Louisiana (the uncommitted pro-life slate won a majority, but McCain finished first among real candidates), making him competitive in the Red states in a way Romney has not yet shown himself to be. If Rudy does not win in Florida, McCain will likely continue to be the beneficiary in states in which Rudy previously dominated (e.g. New York, New Jersey, Illinois, California). In short, we may be heading for a McCain vs. Romney showdown, but one in which McCain’s advantage will grow if Rudy’s star continues to fade.

John: yes, that bell is ringing rather loudly in Florida. Rudy–according to the latest batch of Florida polling–has slid into a third-place tie in Florida with Huckabee well behind McCain and Romney. Some polls have McCain up slightly and others have Romney in the lead, but all appear to be within the margin of error. This suggests : 1) Romney is gaining by picking up Thompson and Huckabee voters and 2) Rudy’s voters are moving to McCain. (#2 can be seen in California, New Jersey and New York as well.)

The shape of the race in the wake of this development is not yet clear. Are we moving to a two-man race, with conservatives lining up with Romney and moderates with McCain? Perhaps. McCain is certainly not willing to concede the conservative base to Romney. In Florida he is now positioning himself as the solid conservative (while Romney pursues his Washington Outsider theme) in an effort to secure a broad coalition of GOP voters. Romney still must fend off Huckabee, who may be a minor factor in Florida but likely will survive to fight in the February 5 states. But slowly, slowly the face off between the two bitter rivals is taking shape.

If we look beyond Florida, McCain may have the advantage.(And not just because the media and his opponents appear to detest Romney.) He has won South Carolina (Romney came in third). And word now comes that he sort-of won in Louisiana (the uncommitted pro-life slate won a majority, but McCain finished first among real candidates), making him competitive in the Red states in a way Romney has not yet shown himself to be. If Rudy does not win in Florida, McCain will likely continue to be the beneficiary in states in which Rudy previously dominated (e.g. New York, New Jersey, Illinois, California). In short, we may be heading for a McCain vs. Romney showdown, but one in which McCain’s advantage will grow if Rudy’s star continues to fade.

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What Are They Up To?

Many people are looking for clues as to what impact Fred Thompson’s departure will have on the race. Mitt Romney fans, not surprisingly, are collecting scraps of evidence that these voters will turn to their guy. The reality appears, however, to be that his absence will be a wash. This indicates that local Florida politicians are dividing up among the remaining candidates. The Louisiana caucus yesterday, which some believed Romney would win (after organizing with only Ron Paul in opposition), yielded unintelligible results. Bottom line: Thompson was on average in single digits in Florida and barely at 10% nationally, so there frankly aren’t that many votes to divide. I think the mostly likely answer is that his absence won’t matter.

Meanwhile, McCain and Romney go at it just like they did in New Hampshire, with Romney claiming McCain’s positions on issues are insufficiently conservative and McCain claiming Romney has no fixed positions. (A McCain spokesman’s on the record quote declares that Romney deserves the “Olympic gold medal for flip-flopping” and proceeds to list the now-familiar litany of Romney’s position changes.) I suspect there are few voters who are yet to be swayed by this back-and-forth, but in a race the polls still show as close no allegation will be left without a response. (Unlike McCain-Rudy disagreements, Romney-McCain spats always suggest a degree of mutual personal animosity and disdain.)

Many people are looking for clues as to what impact Fred Thompson’s departure will have on the race. Mitt Romney fans, not surprisingly, are collecting scraps of evidence that these voters will turn to their guy. The reality appears, however, to be that his absence will be a wash. This indicates that local Florida politicians are dividing up among the remaining candidates. The Louisiana caucus yesterday, which some believed Romney would win (after organizing with only Ron Paul in opposition), yielded unintelligible results. Bottom line: Thompson was on average in single digits in Florida and barely at 10% nationally, so there frankly aren’t that many votes to divide. I think the mostly likely answer is that his absence won’t matter.

Meanwhile, McCain and Romney go at it just like they did in New Hampshire, with Romney claiming McCain’s positions on issues are insufficiently conservative and McCain claiming Romney has no fixed positions. (A McCain spokesman’s on the record quote declares that Romney deserves the “Olympic gold medal for flip-flopping” and proceeds to list the now-familiar litany of Romney’s position changes.) I suspect there are few voters who are yet to be swayed by this back-and-forth, but in a race the polls still show as close no allegation will be left without a response. (Unlike McCain-Rudy disagreements, Romney-McCain spats always suggest a degree of mutual personal animosity and disdain.)

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